a wealth and variety of energy information. Fuel economy tests have been mandated for automobiles, and the results are publicized in Fuel Economy Mileage Guides, which are distributed through automobile dealers, affixed to new cars, and included in new car advertising. Energy efficiency ratings have been calculated for air conditioners and other major household appliances, and manufacturers have been required to display this information prominently on the appliances. Pamphlets have been published offering advice on how to reinsulate homes, how to drive an automobile in an energy-saving manner, and how to save energy in many other ways. State Energy Extension Services have been funded, and each has provided its own set of information programs. A computerized energy audit system (“Project Conserve”) was developed to provide accurate information on the energy-saving measures that should prove cost-effective for individual homes. And in the Residential Conservation Service, detailed energy audit information was included in a package of services designed to provide expert advice, financial assistance, ease of purchase and payment, and quality control for major household weatherization activities.

While some of those programs have been discontinued and others are in the process of change, all share a common implicit rationale that complete information is necessary to make rational decisions in the energy market and that, because of new developments in technology and continuous changes in energy prices, the information that individuals and households had previously used had become obsolete. Without programs to provide accurate information on the new environment, people would make decisions that would not further their own or the nation’s interests. This rationale derives from a view of energy users as rational actors motivated to minimize energy-related costs and maximize income available after energy needs have been met. In short, the creators of government information programs have usually assumed that energy users act as investors.

Federal energy information programs have also proceeded from implicit assumptions about the way information works—and those assumptions are fundamentally wrong. The programs tend to be constructed as if people presented with accurate estimates of, for example, thermal performance of a variety of furnaces, would use this information in purchasing decisions. Even when people are acting as investors, however, this is not the case: information that reaches a person’s eyes or ears is not necessarily noticed, understood, assimilated, or used. For information to be effective in a decision process, making it available is not enough.

The Roles of Government

Although the need to attract attention, offer clear and compelling presentations, and motivate audiences to use information is well understood by communications professionals, government officials have generally been

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement